Saturday, December 5, 2009

Godly Political Opposition

In the "Incompetence or Sabotage?" post below, reader Tim registers this protest:

This blogger continuously speaks evil of the President of the United States, which is his right of course, but to do so in the name of Christ or of Christianity is so misleading as to the nature of Jesus as to be evil in itself.

On this blog, we advocate, among other things, political and economic liberty. We do this because we think it is godly to do so, and we advocate an understanding of liberty that (I believe in good conscience) is faithful to the Scriptures.

I must hasten first to say that I don't agree with everything Harold has written in his rejoinder below. Part of it seems to dismiss Paul's (and thus God's) command to submit to unjust governing authorities as culturally relative, limited in its binding authority to the unhappy and unenlightened times in which it was written. (Forgive me and please correct me if I have misunderstood you.) But I don't think we have to wait until the Enlightenment to find the value of personal liberty expressed in Christian teaching.

In I Timothy 2, Paul urges prayer "for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." That is, we are to pray that government would do that for which God has instituted it, and to do no less and no more. Government is to protect the people from one another and from outside invasion so that they are free to go about their own business, providing for their own needs and those of their neighbors (e.g. one's children and aged parents, the poor in one's midst, etc.). Government is to secure fathers in their liberty to fulfill their calling as fathers, bakers and shoemakers to fulfill their callings as bakers and shoemakers, and the church to fulfill its calling as the church. The government is not to raise children, bake bread, preach the gospel, or feed the hungry. In other words, government provides only what people cannot in principle provide on their own. Everything else is rightly left to the self-government of individual citizens, families, and churches. The life of morally informed self-government is one that both the Apostle Paul and natural reason (c.f. Aristotle, John Locke) recognize as "dignified," i.e., the dignity befitting human beings, creatures made in the image of God who governs all things.

harold adds:
David, you nicely sum up what in Protestant terms is the "sphere of influence" argument, and in Catholic thought what is called the doctrine of "subsidiary institutions", wherein the three main institutions of civil life, government, church, and family, each have their own proper sphere of influence or control. Societal upset of all sorts occurs when any of the three attempt an incursion on the sovereignty of another, or attempt a model of rule adapted from the others. Obviously, the greatest offender is the state forcing its way into matters familial and ecclesial, often under the guise of moral concern for the little ones.

I suspect that my predilections afford an earlier and more robust form of resistance to state incursions into areas I consider none of its concern than do your own. On the relativistic thing, I am as wary as anyone of falling into that state of affairs, but perhaps I have in my statement above. I suspect, for example, that the wars spawned by the Reformation were as brutal and wrong-headed as any, yet many men of strong and determined Christian faith were involved, for the principles at stake, and not just for the sake of rebellion or revenge. A special subset of the Reformation wars were the English revolutions, which ended not only Catholic but Divine Right monarchical pretensions, things we consider part of the blessings of the liberty bequethed to us by our own revolution--which strictly speaking, is difficult at best to justify out of anything Jesus or Paul taught regarding civil authorities. Was our own revolution out of line with a nation considering itself (at least for the first 150 years) a Christian nation? Would you have joined the thoughtful Tories, whose consciences and family lineages led them to side with the God-given order of King and Parliament? The colonial pulpits were filled with fiery injunctions to throw off the tyranny of King George, many pastors finding a happy coincidence of Locke and Paul in their reading of the New Testament as it applied to their new city on a hill. I don't consider any of this dispositive for my position, but bring it briefly forward in order to show the ambiguity involved in this vexed question of what the duties and rights of persons as free citizens of a constitutional state are in relation to their duties and rights as Christians, questions which were simply not germane to those under ancient despotisms, who can hardly be considered citizens with any political rights (the vanishing shadow of which allowed Paul as a Roman citizen to appeal the decision of Festus, who would have slapped his wrist and let it go had he not insisted on his rights as a Roman). There is irony for you.

What vexes Harold's righteous soul and mine, and should vex yours, brother Tim, is the leftist desire not to keep people safe in their liberty, but simply to keep them. Not only as political theorists, but also as Christians, we see the statist agenda of political liberals in general, and of the Obama administration in particular, as despotic and dehumanizing, howsoever they dress it up in the language of love and compassion. Some liberals and perhaps most, including you no doubt, are genuinely concerned about human well-being, but we argue that you are tragically mistaken. We will continue to argue, and do so in the fear of God and for the glory of Christ.

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